Spencer lawsuit against township still unresolved

A federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by Cranberry Township resident and property owner Randy Spencer against the township and some of its officials has not been resolved.

Spencer claims in the lawsuit that the township has selectively enforced ordinances to punish him and also to retaliate against him for speaking at a public township meeting in January, according to documents filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Erie Division.

In addition to the township, several individuals are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in February. They are supervisors Matt McSparren and Bob Betzold, former supervisor Fred Buckholtz, township manager Eric Heil and zoning officer Regina Deloe.

The lawsuit alleges that the supervisors retaliated against Spencer for his speech during the public meeting, which is a violation of his First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution; and that they deprived him of equal protection under the law, in violation of the fifth and 14th Amendments, by singling him out for punishment by harshly enforcing ordinances against him that they don’t rigorously enforce against others.

“The Township tolerates the accumulation of junk vehicles on dozens of properties other than Spencer’s. The Township has not sanctioned any other property owner for a similar condition on their property and has, for years, engaged in a continuing course of conduct singling out Spencer and engaging in harsh enforcement of some of its ordinances against the Plaintiff only,” the lawsuit says.

The township, in its April response to the lawsuit, denied Spencer’s claims.

“At no time did the Defendants act in bad faith or in an unreasonable, extreme, willful, wanton, outlandish, outrageous and/or malicious manner toward Plaintiff, the township says in its response.

An alternative dispute resolution was ordered by U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter, who is hearing the case.

On Monday, a report was filed by a neutral third party in the case who said a neutral evaluation session was held last week, but there remains no resolution at this time.

Details of the case

The lawsuit notes that the township and Spencer have been “engaged in various litigation” for years regarding used vehicles on Spencer’s properties and that one of his properties — along Deep Hollow Road — is under an injunction due to concerns about flooding.

The suit continues “this litigation has been pursued by the Township exclusively against Spencer despite the existence of dozens of other properties in the Township with similar conditions… The Township enacted a “property maintenance” ordinance specifically targeted against Spencer, which it has not enforced against any other Township resident.”

The township also enacted a nuisance ordinance targeted specifically against Spencer that was found to be invalid after litigation between Spencer and the township, according to the suit.

The lawsuit goes on to detail specific allegations that Spencer was targeted by Cranberry Township supervisors who also retaliated against him when he spoke critically at a public meeting regrading stormwater management strategies at the Cranberry Mall.

The suit alleges that Spencer’s property along Lower Two Mile Run was singled out for an injunction due to flooding, though a great quantity of oil washed down the creek during a flood from a neighboring property, and that property owner has not faced an injunction.

Spencer placed several vehicles on the Deep Hollow Road property that is under an injunction, but the vehicles were not placed in the flood zone though they were in violation of the injunction, the lawsuit said.

“The Township was aware of the vehicles’ presence shortly after they were placed there and did not protest to Spencer, request their removal, contact Spencer’s attorney, or threaten action if they were not removed,” according to the lawsuit. The suit says the vehicles were in place for “several months.”

“Spencer and the Township are also engaged in litigation concerning the Township’s failure to control stormwater from the Cranberry mall…which subsequently contributed to the flooding of Spencer’s property subject to the Injunction…on four occasions,” the lawsuit says.

The Army Corps of Engineers was studying the stormwater management issue at the request of the township supervisors, and a public town hall meeting was held Jan. 26, 2023, regarding “proposed plans for stormwater management,” the lawsuit said.

At the meeting, which the supervisors attended, “Spencer spoke, pointing out that the Township already had a study in its possession that reasonably recommended a plan of abatement for the Cranberry Mall stormwater including the establishment of retention ponds. The Supervisors have not acted on those recommendations,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit notes that retention ponds were recommended when the mall was being built but the township didn’t require them as part of the stormwater management plan.

“When Spencer pointed this out, it annoyed and embarrassed the Defendant Supervisors, who decided to punish Spencer for speaking out… by seeking harsh contempt sanctions against Spencer for the vehicles they had long known about and had not complained about,” the lawsuit says.

The suit continues by saying “their intent was not to remedy the condition, which could have been accomplished with a single phone call, but to seek substantial fines against Spencer and to imprison him. The township has never taken similar action against the owners of any of the several dozen similar accumulations of vehicles in the Township.”

On Feb. 1, the supervisors sent Deloe to take pictures of the vehicles to use as evidence against Spencer, and then on Feb. 3, without prior warning, the township filed a petition “to hold Spencer in contempt for the alleged violation of the injunction” as well as alleging that Spencer was responsible for vehicles on adjoining properties belonging to other people, though the township was aware that Spencer was not responsible for his neighbors’ properties, the lawsuit says.

The “property directly across the road and the… property adjoining Spencer’s have a higher number of junk vehicles on them. No action has been taken against either property owner for the same violations for which” the township was seeking to punish Spencer, according to the lawsuit.